He’s a big fish in one of the biggest ponds of style, art and taste in the world and he’s been one of Paris’ best-kept secrets, until now of course! How Jean-Bastien Lagrange has remained quite so under the radar is a mystery in this age of media exposure but on interviewing this talented interior designer, one gets the impression that his days of discreet story creation are about to leak out and his name ready to be on the lips of all those who know. However, Jean Bastien is not just an interior designer, but he is also a photographer and owner of two, very aristocratic goldfish.
JB, as his friends know him, holds a winning card and it looks nothing like anything else you have seen before. He has an intuitive understanding of how to do two things. Firstly to hear what a client desires and secondly to be able to intelligently combine different styles resulting in a place of beauty which is much more than just putting together a jumble of shapes and colours. Perhaps it’s his photographer’s eye, which brings a different edge to his work because each space he designs tells a story. Perhaps it’s because he himself has an interesting background that brought him to this place after all, he began as a lawyer working both in France and Vietnam.
TH: Your move from lawyer to interior designer – why?
JB: I am a creative person and I felt exceptionally frustrated being in a job that is intellectually interesting and challenging but ultimately not very artistic. I was already a photographer and had spent time in theatre and had a really strong feeling that my place was not in the law sector. So I decided to switch to what I considered more being ‘my way’.
TP: How long were you in Vietnam and how much of that part of Asia influences your work?
JB: I was in Vietnam in 2001 and 2002 and then travelled around south-east Asia. Although I returned to France, I did manage to spend at least one month each year there, mostly India, Tibet, and Nepal. I am really sensitive to colours, lights, materials, and architecture. Asia contains something very delicate and refined. There is an understanding for details that certainly still influence my work.
It is difficult to say how much influence, because it is very subtle. I notice and then assimilate them which results in small touches of colours, forms and materials, which appear in my work creating a very specific atmosphere.
TP: Your work isn’t Asian though, there seems to be a good mix of line and colour.
JB: I definitely draw inspiration from the Classical for the nobility of materials, colours, and a taste for ornament as well as with the Modern for the purity of lines. What specific space layout brings in terms of reflection both physical and internal. Contemporary Art also offers new proposals brought in term of aesthetic treatment, reflections on given questions. All of these things figure highly in how I interpret the space and produce a design to fit and suit.
TP: What about the muse?
JB: I ‘m inspired by Christian Liaigre, Idia Madhavi, Mies Van der Rohe and modernist architects. Of course, I’m also influenced by contemporary artists but it’s more detailed than that. I can be watching a movie and the tiniest detail will catch my attention and suddenly develop into something else which fits a project or idea.
TP: I’ve seen you dress and even then, you embody ‘story’. The clothes you wear, carry a purpose to them, often unusually so. Is this intentional or instinctive and do you think it is a reflection of you in your work?
JB: I dress in a clearly instinctive manner. I enjoy inventing new outfits, but everything is very spontaneous. Also as a photographer, having acted, my previous professional life as a lawyer, and my ability to travel from one world to another nourishes all parts of my life, from my clothes to my work. Of course – there is always a sense of one’s personal history, which comes to play as well.
Combining different styles is not just putting things together. Actually it is more finding out what in ancient and classical style can be translated into or exist beside modern/contemporary and then emphasise this part. It’s not about being eclectic. It is a subtle dose between the different styles, which blend and complement. I like diverting things, objects, clothes even furniture from their original purpose. This diversion is for me very contemporary and brings a modern fresh sense to each project.
TP: Where can someone find examples of your work as photographer and interior designer?
TP: Do you have any pet hates or things that annoy you?
JB: Fake, I don’t like thing which are fake. I feel offended by things that try to pretend to be something, things that carry a sense of pretentiousness. I don’t like low quality items. Simplicity is quality but that which is fake, is a lie. I also feel really uncomfortable in places with bad lighting. Ineffective lighting can create a depressing atmosphere and there’s just no need for it now. Softer lights from varying sources can lift you so much. When I think about it, it’s ultimately about harmony, a sense of refinement in materials, the culture of where I am, the light, everything needs to works together.
TP: You’ve done hotel interior design in the past – how do you think your style transposes for small apartments?
JB: I worked with an agency, which specialised in hotel interior design. But actually, I am more into apartment design – after all it’s very common in big cities like Paris. I like to organise small spaces because I have to be clever and use all intuition and skills available.
TP: What is your greatest achievement to date?
JB: Changing career and not being too afraid to do it. It was difficult to abandon the security a legal career holds. But the change was also about an internal and personal change. That was necessary in order to change my working environment and life choices.
TP: What is your greatest fear?
JB: I fear running out of inspiration. I hope I don’t lose my originality but I work hard on replenishing my inspiration. Each life experience furnishes me with more. Each experience travelling, taking note of even the smallest detail of costumes in a museum or something in films I might be watching. All of these details inevitably influence and become part of the environments I ultimately create. I have to be out in the world to get my inspiration. May it never end.
Clearly it’s not a matter of thinking out of the box for JB. For him, he stepped out of and left behind the walls of the box a long time ago and now, he exists in the realm of the fantasy of the moment and how deftly he can create a space both classical and contemporary which suits the client, the moment, the desire for both beauty and functionality. He might call himself a ‘colour psychomaniac’, but there’s so much more to this unusual man. Even a short conversation might bring up a sense of the philosophical, a search for the exotic and truth within a sense of mortality and all the queries that brings to each of us. He is one of a kind, independent, with deep respect for his family, his friends, his environment and life, and until now, has been in the shadows, discreetly successful. A talented mind, with a keen eye and within it all, a sense of genuine humility that takes nothing away from his obvious abilities. Oh, and those aristocratic goldfish? Named from the Alps, where his family originate and perhaps a nod to the genteel and classical taste that runs deep in his veins, Charles-Felix, and Victor-Amédée.
Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: © Jean-Bastien Lagrange, 2013. Courtesy of the designer.